Sunday, April 29, 2012

Chinese-Korean Festival

A few weekends ago we met an interesting couple out at our favorite bar.  Michael is a huge Chinese-American married to a tiny Korean woman whose English name is Michelle.  They teach English in Korea and communicate with each other in Chinese and English.  They have a son in middle school, who speaks little English, as his first language is Korean. Michael grew up in the states, so he's always looking for native speakers to interact with.  The two invited us for dinner a week or so ago, and Michael cooked us an incredible traditional Chinese meal.  This weekend they invited us for a day of football and festivities with their son and his three friends.  The friends are students of Michael's, anxious to practice their English with native speakers outside the classroom.

Blinking, we walk into the bright sun we haven't seen since January in Florida.  Peering around, we see a football flying through the air and realize it's Michael.  We say hello and climb into the car.  While catching up on the past weeks' events, Michael quickly pulls over and talks briefly on his cell phone.  He says, "Yeah baby, so I just realized we're going the complete opposite direction... Looks like we'll get there about the same time now!" Michael then looks at his son, "Did you know Daddy was going the wrong way?" Jay Jay just nods, all-knowingly. We re-route and later arrive at a park on Wolmi Island. There is a turf field with tents surrounding the edges.  The emcee of a company picnic is broadcast through a huge jumbotron that stands in the middle of the field and spews Korean to a large audience.

Michelle greets each of us with a huge hotdog on a stick and a smile.  "They're free!" she exclaims.  We walk down the field and toss the football around to warm up.  We meet Kevin and Justin, two almost indistinguishable middle schoolers.  They are close to Kyle's height but painfully skinny without an ounce of body fat.  Then we meet Ben, who is about six inches shorter than me and appears to have been stealing all of Justin and Kevin's food over the years.  He's wearing a big white t-shirt and tight soccer warm-up pants.  When picking teams, I nudge Kyle to pick Ben first.  We end up with Ben and Jay Jay on our team.  Just before the game, Ben decides to have one more hotdog for good measure.  Finally we start, and the first touchdown is scored by Michael diving into the endzone.  We battle back and forth for a while, then the company picnic turns into a pop concert.  Ben's shoes come off, and he can't stop shaking his hips to the beat of the song.  His eyes become fixed to the jumbotron screen as he stares at the girls in their booty shorts dancing onstage.   After every down, we have to refocus his from wiggling his body without shame.  After the girls' performance, a well-known boy band takes the stage, and people suddenly come running from all corners of the park to join the crowd.  Imagine how much more distracting this is for Ben; it's no surprise we end up losing the game..

Kyle making a nice catch

Me, Ben, Kyle, Jay Jay, Kevin, and Justin

Soon after, we walk down the path to Wolmi Myland, a small amusement park.  
On the bay of Wolmi Island

Ben and Jay Jay outside Wolmi Myland

Standing by the beautiful late-bloomed cherry blossoms

The boys play some games in the arcade, and Michael tests his strength on the arm wrestling game. Then Jay Jay, Ben, Justin, and Michael climb aboard to ride a ride similar to the Rotor except the floor doesn't drop down.  You sit in a circle with no seat belts and try to hold on while the guy running the contraption spins and thrusts it all over the place, all the while laughing and calling people out in Korean.  He teases Michael, the hefty ex-Division One college football player, saying the fat kid next to him (Ben) must be his son. Michael doesn't speak Korean, though, so he only realizes what's happening when Jay Jay speaks up and yells, "No, I'M his son!" After the physical torture ends, Michael limps off complaining of a back injury due to old age, not unlike one Mr. David G. Bednar.

Here's a short video to give you an idea of the ride:

Exhausted, we head for Chinatown for the Chinese-Korean festival, commemorating the 20th anniversary of China and South Korea's trade alliance since the war.  We head straight into a Chinese restaurant, past a few street vendors selling As Seen On TV items from America.  Michael and Michelle communicate with the waitor in both Korean and Chinese, which is pretty impressive.  Just before the food arrives, Ben asks Michelle somthing in Korean, who nods signaling Ben permission to leave the table.  He's back in a few minutes with a plastic bag.  He ran out to buy a knife sharpener from the street vendor.  He told us Parent's Day is coming up, so he thought he'd buy a knife sharpener for his mother.  The urge to buy it struck him right then, I guess! At the restaurant we enjoy sweet and sour pork, a spicy chicken and vegetable stir fry, traditional soups, and fried rice.  I lucked out and sat next to Ben at dinner.  Afterwards, Kyle talked with Michael and Michelle about learning languages, while Ben showed me dozens of photos of the paper robots and dragons he constructs for fun.  After awhile, we hobble out with full stomachs and sore muscles. 

Michael heading into the restaurant

At the dinner table

Ten steps down the road, Michael insists we all try some traditional Chinese street food - some sort of lamb skewer. Are you serious? I'm so full I can barely walk! Then he drags us to get Chinese pearl milk tea, a sweet milk-based tea with small, mostly flavorless gummies floating in it. It's similar to the popular bubble tea in the states; pretty tasty!

Michelle and Michael in front of the gorgeous mural at the coffee shop

Two guys making traditional Chinese candy, one caught me taking his picture

A very intricate and scary Chinese statue at the restaurant
We walk up countless stairs to the peak of a small mountain listening to Michael moan and grumble and Jay Jay tell him he's old as dirt.  We reach the top at last, where a huge crowd has gathered around an enormous stage and a Korean woman is belting out a song.  There's almost no place to walk, like going to a concert at Blossom on the perfect summer night.  Plastic chairs fill every space from the base of the stage to as far as you can see.  We climb through the crowd until we find a small opening of rocks to settle onto.  It's so crowded we can't see the stage and can hardly see the huge screens next to the stage.  In response to our lack of sight, Michael tosses Jay Jay onto a tree branch so he can see better, at the same time knocking a bunch of tree bark on an old woman's head.  She looks up shuddering, then changes her mind and chuckles a bit instead. 

Jay Jay up in the tree
After the woman's performance, a pop concert breaks out yet again.  The Korean version of pop is called K-Pop, for those who don't know (I'd venture that's all of you).  The verses are in Korean, but one or two catchy lines of the chorus are in English.  The English is extremely cheesy, with lines like, "oh my god," "lovey dovey," and "roly poly," which is pronounced "Lolly polly," since Koreans can't say the letter L very well. The K-Pop groups are made up of extremely well-groomed twenty-something Koreans who dance around in perfectly choreographed numbers.  Some songs are originally American transposed into Korean language and style.  For example, there's a K-Pop version of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep."

You can't see much, but the sound is decent on these shots of the concert:

Anyway, the concert goes on, and a few popular Chinese songs and fireworks cap off the night. It was both interesting and refreshing to enjoy some Asian food and culture that's different from Korean.  After we finally arrive back at our apartment, we collapse into bed, and the night ends with a brief scare of appendicitis, which turns out to be just a sore oblique muscle from playing football.

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